The Association was born at the final session of a national conference on the Teaching of Interdisciplinary Social Science held at Miami University in April 1979 with Kenneth Boulding as keynoter. Fifty participants agreed the organization should welcome all disciplines and emphasize the key distinguishing feature of good interdisciplinary work, namely integration. Concerned about shoddy scholarship and teaching done in the name of interdisciplinary studies, they chose to call it the Association for Integrative Studies instead. A slate of officers was elected, and the new AIS members dug the initial dues out of their wallets.
That conference set the tone for future AIS conferences. Perhaps because participants were selected for commitment to interdisciplinary education and not for institutional prestige, there was little attempt to impress each other with displays of erudition. People listened intently to one another and worked through issues collaboratively.
By 1983 AIS had established a pattern of annual conferences hosted by institutions with interdisciplinary programs, regular publication of the quarterly newsletter and annual journal, and member services such as a textbook survey, and lists of publishers and journals receptive to interdisciplinary scholarship. Over the next few years, discussions at annual conferences focused on the philosophy, pedagogy, and politics of interdisciplinary studies and its application to the fine and performing arts. Definitions of interdisciplinary were debated, and exemplary works of interdisciplinary scholarship were analyzed.
Starting in 1986, AIS has sponsored the publication of books on interdisciplinary studies: Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Programs: A Directory (1986/1996); Interdisciplinary (1990); Interdisciplinary Studies Today (1994); Interdisciplinary: Essays from the Literature (1998); Interdisciplinary General Education and Interdisciplinary Education: A Guide to Resources (1999); Innovations in Interdisciplinary Teaching and Interdisciplinary Education in K-12 and College (2002); Becoming Interdisciplinary (2005); Interdisciplinary Research (2008); and Disciplining Interdisciplinary (2009).
In the 1990s AIS commissioned a decade of scholarly research into interdisciplinary assessment, culminating in the Interdisciplinary Writing Assessment Profiles, and issued a report on general education for AAC&U. It also established the INTERDIS LISTSERV.
In the new millennium a cadre of consultants was trained in interdisciplinary curricular and program development, and in 2005 AIS sponsored a North American teleconference on recent developments in interdisciplinary studies. The website has been steadily expanded to include directories of interdisciplinary master’s and doctoral programs, exemplary syllabi, and an electronic job market.
AIS has worked collaboratively over the years with a variety of national professional groups such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Association for General and Liberal Studies, the Society for Values in Higher Education, and is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Efforts are underway to promote kindred associations internationally, including Australia and the EU.
After extensive consultation the Association changed its name from Association for Integrative Studies to Association for Interdisciplinary Studies on January 1, 2013. It was felt the new name more accurately reflects the mission of the organization in the contemporary context, especially to those outside North America.